After leaving China and having 3 full days at home, I headed back out into the open skies for my (shorter series of flights, and) next adventure!
When I got to the airport, they weighted my bag and I learned that the weight limit to and from Brazil is 70 not 50 pounds which I didn’t know. Hence, when I arrived on the other end, there were some of the largest bags at the carousel I have ever seen, people traveling to brazil have so much luggage it is absolutely ridiculous. I cant tell if they are merely tourists or if Brazilians travel with a lot.
I have been here in Sao Paulo for 4 days now, and what an amazing experience this is, it is difficult to know where to begin.
The weather here, although it is winter, is fabulous! It could change at any moment, but its high 60’s and 70’s here. I may rain and get cold soon but we’re enjoying this while we can.
We have a group of 7 on this trip, a mix of International Business majors (two of which will be staying for an entire year here after this trip as part of their program), "regular" business majors, an international affairs and a mechanical engineer. We all get along great, and we absolutely love the program directors/assistants. Fernanda has been showing us around, giving us some inside tours, which has been truly awesome. Just cruising down the street in a taxi you get to see fabulous views of cute side streets with tons of restaurants and bars, among the hills of Sao Paulo (think San Francisco hills but slightly less steep and more spread out. Fernanda took us to a Samba club last night, with live music, a restaurant, bar, and dance floor all together in a really fun atmosphere.
We stayed at a different hotel the first two nights during what was considered our orientation, the Caesar Business Hotel was on Avenida Paulista which is a very central street in Sao Paulo - shopping, food, tall financial office and bank buildings, that type of thing. It was a fancy hotel, nothing developing world/3rd world about it. Being right in that prime area was perfect, and easy to direct a taxi home without much trouble while not fluent in Portuguese.
We arrived Friday morning and hit the road right away. After dropping our stuff we walked with Fernanda and Leda, the other program coordinator, around Paulista to get a sense of where we were. We then had an amazing buffet lunch at a random but fabulous hotel restaurant - apparently buffets are very common Sao Paulo, but basically there is every type of salad (bean salad, rice salad, lettuce salad), pasta chef awaiting orders, desserts, drinks, every type of meat and fish, olives and pickles and corn and eggplant and tons of amazing dishes. Think Whole Food's deli esk. We hit repeat on that experience and had a very similar buffet yesterday for lunch at a different place.
Interspersed with our amazing eating outings (while the program still pays for our food...) we have had some overview sessions of the city, safety, and just being in Brazil in general. We've taken the bus a few times to get to the program office where Ana Luisa, the director, is literally the sweetest woman, welcoming us in and giving everyone hugs and kisses. She had us over to her home for dinner Friday night which was fabulous, where her mother and son where also hanging around. Her son and daughter in law came out with us Friday night to a club, they are probably in their early thirties would be my guess.
I can understand a shocking amount of Portuguese because of my knowledge of Spanish, it's so much fun to be able to understand large chunks of people's conversations. Among our group we are split with two who have knowledge of Portuguese and a bunch with some or a lot Spanish knowledge. Between all of us, we're doing pretty well. Granted, we've been with Fernanda a far amount so we're not quite on our own yet, don't let me speak too soon. But I can very much hear the Italian influence that exists here (mainly in Sao Paulo), the intonation in their accent, kind of a Spanish plus Italian mix, is very unique but could easily be accompanied by classic Italian gestures.
Sunday we moved to our new hotel, our home for the next month. This too, is a very fancy hotel. Much smaller, and is very new, but we are now a few blocks down from Avenida Paulista among the cute side streets with very local shops, restaurants and bars. We are an 8 minute walk to FGV, our school for the next month. We're told that FGV is considered the best business school in Brazil (compare to Wharton maybe?) and is seen as an extremely exclusive school, difficult to get into, but full of kids with private jets. The divide between public and private schools in Brazil is large, with public being absolutely free and private being much more than many people make in a year.
The organization that facilitates our program here in Sao Paulo, CIEE, brought in an ex-study abroad student the other day who happens to be living here for the summer, and she talked to us about her experiences and to serve as a reference if we had questions. It turns out she is working here in Sao Paulo at an afterschool care center that uses the Waldrof philosophy (the same philosophy my K-8th school used, focusing on learning along with the pace of child development). I found it to be such a random overlap, even though Waldorf doesn’t seem to be very common here (as it is not very common in the US).
Also, I overheard Fernanda talking about a saint from India and I asked who she was talking about as she pulled out a picture from her wallet of Amma, who’s ashram in California I grew up going to. Fernanda worked Amma’s retreat here in Brazil and is highly involved in her following here, another extremely random overlap and connection that we talked about for ages.
The subway in Sao Paulo is amazing compared to Beijing - actually calm at times and doesn’t take an hour to get anywhere substantial. We took the subway on Sunday to Libertade, which is in the Asian area of the city. There was a Sunday farmers market/flee market that was nice, and we walked down the street a bit to the Se Cathedral, which is gorgeous (see the photos). We walked around a bit and had lunch at a Chinese and Japanese mixed buffet that was expansive, just so much food everywhere. It was somewhat “just” another buffet here in Sao Paulo (they are expensive but the program has been footing the bill for the moment) but still wonderful.
Yesterday we had our first day of class! The next two weeks are classroom and lecture based then the final two weeks will be dedicated to our projects, that seem to be group projects (presentation and paper) that focus on an issue in need of outside consultation for an actual company here in Sao Paulo that FGV is partnering with. Each day for the next two weeks we have two different topics, one morning and one afternoon, with various professors at different points. Yesterday morning’s class was some basic intro to Portuguese (the only language learning we will have) and that afternoon was Brazilian culture. FGV’s building is very very nice (they don’t really have a campus, just buildings that take up a portion of a block) – the majority of the school is on vacation so it’s pretty quiet. Our program, Doing Business in Brazil, is specialized for international students, and is administered through partnerships with many different US universities and business schools, including Wharton (UPenn’s business school) and NYU’s as well. They treat us so so well, during our morning AND afternoon breaks a catered snack is brought in, coffee, tea, juice, and sandwiches. Come lunch I wasn’t even hungry for the huge buffet they took us too, that seems to be an every day thing now….as long as they offer to pay for our food we’ll take it! Two days in and they’re staying paying, things are looking up.